Courts

Monday, May 17, 2021

Bear River Triple Murder Suspect Returned to Humboldt

Posted By on Mon, May 17, 2021 at 9:26 AM

The Loleta resident accused in the triple murder of a family at a home on the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria Reservation has been returned to Humboldt County more than three months after being arrested in Utah.

The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office states in a social media post that Mauricio Johnson, 19, arrived last night after being transported back by a team from the jail.

According to media reports, Johnson repeatedly fought extradition.

Johnson is accused in the shooting deaths of Nikki Dion Metcalf and Margarett Lee Moon, both 40, and Moon's 16-year-old daughter, Shelly Autumn Mae Moon. Moon and Metcalf had become engaged to be married on Christmas Eve, according to a post on Moon's Facebook page.

The deaths have deeply shaken the Bear River and Loleta communities. Shelly and Margarett Lee Moon both worked at Loleta Elementary School as aides, tutoring students and working in the afterschool program.
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Thursday, May 13, 2021

County Allows Cannabis Growers to Apply for Tax Refunds in Wake of Court Ruling

Posted By on Thu, May 13, 2021 at 4:54 PM

After a an appeals court ruled the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors overstepped when it "impermissibly broadened the scope" of the cannabis tax voters approved in 2016, the county is beginning the process of refunding potentially millions of dollars in tax payments.

In a press release issued today, the county is introducing a process for people who paid cannabis excise taxes under Measure S from 2017 through 2021 to request a refund.

"In order for an application to be considered for a refund, taxpayers need to provide documentation that they did not cultivate cannabis during the year they were assessed a tax or that they cultivated an area that was different from that of their permit," the press release states. "Taxpayers seeking a refund will need to submit an assessment appeal application, along with an additional form that is specific to the refund claim, to the Clerk of the Board's Office. A separate application must be submitted for each year that a refund is sought, within four years from the date the tax was paid."

The county will then review the applications and compare them to "available information, including but not limited to satellite imagery and state tax records," and then either pause a settlement with the applicant or more to an assessment appeal hearing.

For background on the lawsuit challenging the board's changes to Measure S, as well as the tax measure itself, read past Journal coverage here. And find the full press release from the county copied below.


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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Man Found Guilty in Skateboard Attack Death of Good Samaritan

Posted By on Wed, May 5, 2021 at 4:56 PM

A Humboldt County jury today found a man guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Bernhard “Ben” Bertain, who died on Christmas in 2018, three days after interceding in an altercation at the Burre Center in Eureka.

Bertain, 58, was struck several times with a skateboard by Jason Ryan Barnes, now 48, while coming to the side of a laundromat employee who was standing between Barnes and a woman he was screaming in the parking lot, according to police reports at the time and a release from the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office.

While Bertain declined medical aid following the Dec. 22, 2018 incident, he later told family members he felt like his ribs had been broken and was found unresponsive three days later after he called 911 for help.

Bertain died during flight to Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.

"An autopsy by Napa County Forensic Pathologist Joseph Cohen determined that Mr. Bertain’s spleen had ruptured due to an expanding hematoma caused by blunt force trauma to the torso," the district attorney's office release states.

Barnes was also found guilty of special allegations that he caused great bodily injury or death and used a deadly weapon. The Eureka man had been charged with second degree murder but Judge Timothy Canning acquitted him of that charge during the trial.

According to the district attorney's office, he faces a maximum of eight years in state prison and his offenses qualify as violent crimes under California’s Three Strikes Law, meaning he will be required to serve at least 85 percent of any sentence he receives.

His sentencing is scheduled for June 14.

Read the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office release below:
On May 5, 2021, a Humboldt County jury found Jason Ryan Barnes, age 48, of Eureka, guilty of one count of involuntary manslaughter for the homicide of Bernhard “Ben” Bertain and two felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon.

The jury also found true the special allegations that Mr. Barnes personally caused great bodily injury or death and personally used a deadly weapon. Barnes had been charged with second degree murder.

Prior to jury deliberations, Judge Timothy Canning acquitted Mr. Barnes of that charge and the lesser included charge of voluntary manslaughter. Thus, the jurors returned guilty verdicts on the most serious charges they were allowed to consider.

The case arose from an incident at the Burre Center Laundromat in Eureka on December 22, 2018. An employee of the laundromat intervened when she saw and heard the defendant screaming at a woman in the parking lot who was asking to be left alone. After the laundromat employee placed herself between Barnes and the woman, Mr. Bertain came over from his parked car to stand with the laundromat employee.

At that point the defendant swung a skateboard at both the employee and Mr. Bertain; the employee evaded the attack but the skateboard struck Mr. Bertain. The defendant then hit Mr. Bertain with the skateboard two more times. Mr. Bertain declined medical attention immediately after the incident, but later told friends and family members that it felt like his ribs were broken when he was struck by the skateboard. Mr. Bertain called 911 in distress three days later but could not communicate when paramedics arrived. Mr. Bertain died during a flight to Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.

An autopsy by Napa County Forensic Pathologist Joseph Cohen determined that Mr. Bertain’s spleen had ruptured due to an expanding hematoma caused by blunt force trauma to the torso.

Eureka Police Department (EPD) Detective Corrie Watson led the investigation into Mr. Bertain’s death. Officers and evidence technicians from both EPD and the Arcata Police Department also contributed to the investigation. Deputy District Attorney Roger C. Rees prosecuted the case with assistance from District Attorney Investigator Marvin Kirkpatrick, and victim advocates Marybeth Bian and Caitlyn LaHaie. Deputy Public Defender David Celli represented Mr. Barnes.

Mr. Barnes is scheduled for sentencing on June 14, 2021. He faces a maximum of 8 years in state prison. Mr. Barnes’s offenses qualify as violent crimes under California’s Three Strikes Law, and he will be required to serve at least 85 percent of any sentence imposed.
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Humboldt Company Fined $2M for Clean Water Act Violations

Posted By on Wed, May 5, 2021 at 11:20 AM

A U.S. District Court judge this week ordered a Humboldt County company to pay just more than $2 million in civil penalties for discharging pollutants into Hall Creek, a tributary to the Mad River, in violation of the Clean Water Act and for noncompliance with state and federal pollution control measures.

According to the May 2 order signed by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, Kernen Construction Co. admitted to “the key allegations in the complaint" filed by the Arcata-based Californians for Alternatives to Toxics.

The fines, according to the order, were for 9,461 violations in connection with the company’s facility at 2350 Glendale Drive in McKinleyville, with 11 related to polluted storm water discharge and the remainder for failure to comply with “plans, technologies, monitoring and other preventative procedures and mechanisms” required by the state and the Clean Water Act.

“The Court finds these violations to be serious, as CAT has shown that (1) the water sampling data shows discharges of at least four toxic pollutants (lead, copper, pentachlorophenol, and zinc) that are harmful to animal and human life; and (2) the degree to which the discharges exceed EPA standards is significant,” Rogers wrote in reference to the discharges.

The fines were applied to violations dating back to November of 2017.

“That a small and endangered population of salmon still hangs on in Hall Creek is something to treasure and protect from toxic pollutants,” said CATs Executive Director Patty Clary said in a release. “This $2 million penalty should send the message that whether a stream supports fish or provides drinking water or other benefit, it is a public resource, not a dumping ground for industries looking to enhance their bottom line.”


Read the full CATs release below:

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on Sunday ordered a Humboldt County construction company to pay $2,087,750 in civil penalties to the federal government for discharge of stormwater laden with toxic chemicals to a salmon-bearing stream without undertaking pollution control measures required by the Clean Water Act.

Arcata-based Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) brought the litigation against Kernen Construction Co. in McKinleyville for on-going discharge of pollutants at levels exceeding those set by regulators into a small stream that flows into Hall Creek, a tributary to the Mad River.

Of toxic pollutants found in samples Kernen must submit to regional water regulators are aluminum, which inhibits the ability of fish to breathe through their gills, at average concentrations 3,742 % above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency benchmark, and iron averaging 5,449 % above the benchmark. Among other pollutants found in water samples is pentachlorophenol, a highly toxic legacy chemical of former mill operations that killed more than 30,000 fish in Hall Creek and the lower Mad River in 1967. Hall Creek has since been listed as critical habitat for endangered salmon.

“That a small and endangered population of salmon still hangs on in Hall Creek is something to treasure and protect from toxic pollutants,” said Patty Clary, Executive Director of CATs. “This $2 million penalty should send the message that whether a stream supports fish or provides drinking water or other benefit, it is a public resource, not a dumping ground for industries looking to enhance their bottom line.”

Kernen Construction, located a few hundred yards north of the Mad River between McKinleyville and Blue Lake on Glendale Drive, admitted in court to on-going violations of the Clean Water Act from November 14, 2017 to the present. Judge Gonzalez Rogers determined that 9,461 violations by Kernen are on record for this period.

“The court roundly rejected Defendants’ arguments that the violations were minor, sending a clear message to the regulated community that they will be punished for violating our nation’s water quality laws,” said attorney Andrew Packard, who represents Plaintiff CATs in the Clean Water Act litigation against Kernen.

Referring also to a settlement of a lawsuit brought by CATs in 2016 against Kernen Construction for violations similar to those claimed in the current litigation, Bill Verick, attorney for Plaintiff CATs, said “This is the second go-round with this company and the second time they ignored their duty to come up with better pollution control when they exceeded EPA benchmarks. Hopefully, a $2 million fine will get their attention. If not, we’ll be back for a third go-round.”

Attorney William N. Carlon of The Law Offices of Andrew L. Packard also represents Plaintiff CATs.

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Sunday, April 25, 2021

Video: California's Police Use-of-Force Law Explained

Posted By on Sun, Apr 25, 2021 at 8:14 AM

In the culmination of one of the fiercest political battles in recent years, California in 2020 put in place a new legal standard tightening the rules around when police can use deadly force.

The new standard was a compromise between police and civil rights groups. It legally permits police to use deadly force only when “necessary in defense of human life.” That’s a steeper standard than prosecutors used to apply, which said officers could shoot when doing so was “reasonable.” In this video, CalMatters news analyst Laurel Rosenhall breaks down the effect of the change on police officers and citizens.


For more background on California’s attempt to reduce police shootings, listen to Rosenhall’s “Force Of Law” podcast, available available on Apple Podcasts or other podcasting platforms.
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Thursday, April 1, 2021

DA Names New Chief Investigator

Posted By on Thu, Apr 1, 2021 at 3:45 PM

Kyla Baxley is sworn in as the chief investigator by District Attorney Maggie Fleming. - COUNTY OF HUMBOLDT
  • County of Humboldt
  • Kyla Baxley is sworn in as the chief investigator by District Attorney Maggie Fleming.
The Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office announced today that Kyla Baxley has taken on the role of chief investigator, having previous served as the senior district attorney investigator, replacing Wayne Cox, who retired on Tuesday.

Baxley, who joined the office in 2013 after five years with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, grew up in Eureka and received a degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Central Florida after also attending Humboldt State University.

“I recognize the vital role the District Attorney Investigations Division can have on the cases our office receives for prosecution,” Baxley said in a news release. “I have always valued the opportunity to interact and build professional relationships with the allied agencies and our community. I feel fortunate I am in a position to continue to do this and look forward to leading the Investigations Division with honesty and integrity.”

Cox — who served as chief investigator for eight years —is widely known for his work in solving the murder of 14-year-old Curtis Huntzinger, a Blue Lake boy who was missing for 18 years before his body was found in a shallow grave in December of 2008, and bringing his killer to justice.

The next year, he was named the California District Attorneys Association’s first-ever “Investigator of the Year” as well as received the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s annual Law Enforcement Excellence Award.

“Among many other valuable qualities, I appreciated Wayne Cox’s willingness and ability to handle an incredible variety of tasks (at all hours) and the value to our Office of his amazing network of connections to people throughout the county and state,” District Attorney Maggie Fleming said in a release. “I also look forward to Kyla Baxley’s service as chief investigator, because her track record gives many reasons to anticipate that she will be excellent in her new role.  Humboldt County has greatly benefitted from the service of Wayne Cox; we are fortunate to continue benefitting from the service of Kyla Baxley.”

Read the full release from the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office below:

The Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office announced Kyla Baxley has been promoted from Senior District Attorney Investigator to Chief Investigator.  Chief Baxley grew up in Eureka and attended both Eureka High School and Humboldt State University before graduating with a degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Central Florida.  She joined the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office in 2007, where she worked as a patrol deputy and later as a detective before joining the District Attorney’s Office as an Investigator in 2013.  Chief Baxley has served as a member of the Child Abuse Services Team throughout her tenure as a DA Investigator.  Her selection as California Sexual Assault Investigator of the Year in 2017 indicates the excellence of her work and level of commitment.  Following her selection as Chief Investigator, Kyla stated: “I recognize the vital role the District Attorney Investigations Division can have on the cases our Office receives for prosecution. I have always valued the opportunity to interact and build professional relationships with the allied agencies and our community. I feel fortunate I am in a position to continue to do this and look forward to leading the Investigations Division with honesty and integrity.”

Chief Baxley replaces Wayne Cox, who retired on March 30 after serving as District Attorney Chief Investigator for the past 8 years.  Former Chief Cox worked in law enforcement for over 30 years, including service with the Eureka Police Department and the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement before he joined the District Attorney’s Office in 2007.  The California District Attorneys Association recognized Chief Cox’s outstanding work by selecting him as Investigator of the Year in 2009.  His many contributions to law enforcement include recognizing the need for, and leading the establishment of, a Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) for Humboldt County.  Established in 2018, the MCTF has already made key contributions to several investigations.

District Attorney Maggie Fleming shared her perspective on the change in Chief Investigators: “Chief Investigator for the DA’s Office is an exceptionally challenging job.  Among many other valuable qualities, I appreciated Wayne Cox’s willingness and ability to handle an incredible variety of tasks (at all hours) and the value to our Office of his amazing network of connections to people throughout the County and State.  I also look forward to Kyla Baxley’s service as Chief Investigator, because her track record gives many reasons to anticipate that she will be excellent in her new role.  Humboldt County has greatly benefitted from the service of Wayne Cox; we are fortunate to continue benefitting from the service of Kyla Baxley.”
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Monday, February 8, 2021

COVID and Churches: U.S. Supreme Court Lifts State Ban on Indoor Services, Other Lawsuits Continue

Posted By on Mon, Feb 8, 2021 at 12:40 PM

Among the beach-goers denied, the indignant gun shop owners and frustrated parents who want schools reopened, one set of plaintiffs against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pandemic shutdown restrictions have scored a big win: churches.

A 6-3 U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued late Friday sided with house-bound pastors and their congregants in their claim Newsom’s bans on worship services in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus unfairly singled out churches, in violation of the First Amendment.

“Since the arrival of COVID–19, California has openly imposed more stringent regulations on religious institutions than on many businesses.” wrote Justice Neil M. Gorsuch in one of three concurring opinions. “California worries that worship brings people together for too much time. Yet, California does not limit its citizens to running in and out of other establishments; no one is barred from lingering in shopping malls, salons, or bus terminals.”

The court said the state could limit worship service capacity to 25 percent and prohibit singing and chanting. Several coronavirus outbreaks have been linked to indoor church gatherings.

“Today the court displaces the judgments of experts about how to respond to a raging pandemic,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan in a dissent. “The court orders California to weaken its restrictions on public gatherings by making a special exception for worship services.”

That still leaves plenty of plaintiffs who have filed other challenges to the state’s restrictions, including irked gun store owners, frustrated gym trainers and irate parents who want schools reopened despite the pandemic. And, not to be forgotten, an extremely disappointed bride-to-be.

Among those filing to challenge the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Monica Six, an Orange County resident, is suing California’s Democratic governor for civil rights violations after his executive order “caused her significant financial hardship as well as ruined her idyllic wedding plans to get married in a special anniversary.”

In suing the state, Six is in crowded company. As of mid-January 2021, the State of California, and Newsom in particular, have been the target of 64 lawsuits over their response to the coronavirus pandemic. About 50 remain active.

The courtroom backlash is no surprise. The restrictions imposed on California civic and economic life are without precedent in state history. Partial reopenings in many counties led to coronavirus spikes, which in turn prompted some retreat back to restrictions.

Many health experts say such drastic measures have been necessary to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed and more Californians from dying. But drastic measures they are. Beyond shuttered school houses and cancelled weddings, it has spelled financial calamity for households, business owners, nonprofits and city governments across the state.

They have also tested the limits of executive power and the negotiability of many constitutional rights. Many of the lawsuits against Newsom challenge the broad restrictions imposed by the shelter-in-place orders. Others contest the governor’s offer of state assistance to undocumented immigrants, his targeted closure of beaches in Orange County, the refusal to list gunshops as essential services and the arrest of two protestors.

Though the state has taken flak from an array of aggrieved Californians — gondoliers, conservative politicians and a Butte County musician reduced to playing his saxophone over Zoom are among the plaintiffs — there is a common denominator for many of these lawsuits: Her name is Harmeet Dhillon.

The San Francisco attorney and Republican Party bigwig is representing plaintiffs in many of the suits. The governor, Dhillon said, “went from ‘let’s flatten the curve for two weeks’ to ‘let’s put everyone under house arrest until we find a cure.’”

Roughly 3 million Californians have tested positive for the virus thus far and more than 33,700 have died of COVID-19, the respiratory disease it causes. Dhillon has said she does not make light of that tragedy, but does not believe it justifies shuttering society.

“We do not shut down our highways because people die in car accidents,” she said. “We do not ban commerce because people die of lung disease after buying cigarettes. There’s a whole range of health issues that we manage with an acceptable level of risk.”

Public health experts argue that because the coronavirus is so contagious, unlike car accidents and lung cancer, “managing” the risk of an overwhelmed medical system requires tighter restrictions on social control.

A study published with the National Bureau of Economic Research estimated that the state’s shelter-in-place order resulted in 1,661 fewer deaths, which, the authors reasoned, works out to “about 400 job losses per life saved.”

Dhillon has long played the role of counter-puncher to the progressive ambitions of state Democrats, who now hold every state constitutional office and a big supermajority in the Legislature.

When lawmakers passed a bill requiring then President Trump to publish his taxes in order to appear on the ballot, it was Dhillon, the Republican Party’s national committeewoman from California, who filed suit on behalf of the California GOP.

Last year, she sued Secretary of State Alex Padilla for, she argued, failing to do enough to exclude non-citizens from county voter rolls. Along the way, Dhillon has cobbled together a small phalanx of California Republicans to help her wage war against the liberal powers that be. Mark Meuser, who ran for Secretary of State in 2018 on an anti-voter-fraud plank, is on her team. In a handful of the pandemic-era cases, she’s joined by Bill Essayli — a young former prosecutor who unsuccessfully ran for Assembly in 2018.

Even when she isn’t suing the state, Dhillon’s name has a way of popping up whenever a new culture war flashpoint breaks out in California. Recall when software engineer James Damore sued Google after being fired for circulating a memo asserting that the underrepresentation of women in tech had a biological basis? Or the student groups who took UC Berkeley to court for cancelling a planned talk by conservative firebrand Ann Coulter, citing security concerns? Or the Trump supporters in San Jose who got roughed up by counter protesters then sued the police? Or the Orange County anti-abortion activist who sued a former Planned Parenthood doctor for bad mouthing him during a TEDx talk?

Dhillon is the plaintiffs’ lawyer in each of these cases.

Dhillon is in fact a regular on the conservative media circuit. She’s a contributor to Fox News and a frequent guest on that network’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” and the “Ingraham Angle,” whose host, Laura Ingraham, Dhillon has cited as a “longtime mentor.”

At the Conservative Political Action Conference last year, Dhillon earned what might be the most coveted of all endorsements on the American right:“She’s a great lawyer,” Trump said to Hayden Williams, a conservative activist who was physically assaulted on UC Berkeley’s campus. “Sue the college, the university, and maybe sue the state.”

She hasn’t. “Not yet,” she said.


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Friday, January 22, 2021

Lawson Civil Trial Pushed Back

Posted By on Fri, Jan 22, 2021 at 6:29 AM

Charmaine Lawson dabs her eyes before addressing the crowd at a vigil held for her son at Humboldt State University in 2019. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Charmaine Lawson dabs her eyes before addressing the crowd at a vigil held for her son at Humboldt State University in 2019.
The trial date for Charmaine Lawson's civil lawsuit alleging the city of Arcata violated her constitutional rights by inadequately and incompetently investigating the 2017 stabbing death of her son has been pushed back to late this year.

The case — in which Lawson alleges racism and discrimination contributed to the city's "deliberately indifferent" policies, practices, customs, training and supervision related to the investigation into Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson's April 15, 2017, stabbing death at an off-campus party — had been scheduled to go to trial this summer. Both sides have agreed to a continuance after the home of lawson's lead attorney — Kyndra Miller — burnt down in September during a fire in Sonoma County.

"Ms. Miller's primary case files and notes for this matter were destroyed," reads the order granting the continuance. "In order to permit plaintiff's counsel sufficient time to recreate the necessary case files and to recover from personal hardship caused to her by the catastrophic Glass Fire, counsel for the parties have met and conferred, and have agreed to modify the pre-trial case schedule and date for commencement of trial."

The city of Arcata has denied wrongdoing in the case and Lawson's homicide remains unsolved. The trial is now slated to begin Nov. 29.

Meanwhile, a civil case brought against the city by Kyle Zoellner, the man who was arrested at the scene of Lawson's stabbing and charged with his murder only to see the case dismissed after a judge found insufficient evidence to hold him to stand trial, is scheduled for a pivotal hearing next month. Zoellner has alleged the city violated his constitutional rights, arrested him without probable cause and falsified police reports. The city has denied the allegations and the court is slated to hear a motion to dismiss the complaint Feb. 25. 
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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

County Says AG's Push to Extend Monitoring of CWS 'Waste of Taxpayer Money'

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2020 at 5:54 PM

Xavier Becerra
  • Xavier Becerra
Nearly two years after the California Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Sheriff's Office reached an agreement regarding an AG investigation into local adherence to the California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced today he would be seeking a court order requiring the county to "fully comply."

The AG is asking to “extend the judgment’s corrective measures and monitoring of the county for an additional two years,” according to a news release, which states the county has made “varying levels of progress” in the handling of child abuse and child neglect reports but the DOJ remains concerned about the Child Welfare Services Division’s implementation of a set of corrective measures.

County officials said in a statement to the Journal that they were aware of the AG's intended actions, saying DHHS had "already offered to stipulate to an additional one-year monitoring period in which we would report directly to the Attorney General’s Office, with continued oversight by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS)."

The statement also describes the actions Becerra is requesting as "the state’s desire to waste taxpayer money on unnecessary consultants and monitors," stating that
"the current dispute between the parties does not involve any current or existing violations of the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA)."

“The investigation happened in 2015, and since 2018, when the Attorney General’s judgement was filed, we have increased staffing by 30 percent and have implemented numerous program strategies to assist staff to do the work necessary in our community," Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services Director Connie Beck said in the statement. "We’ve made tremendous strides and stand behind our staff, and we will continue to do the good work that we are doing in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office and work in partnership with our community, law enforcement and tribes to keep children safe.” 

According to the county, more than $1.5 million has been paid to third party monitors and consultants since the 2018 stipulated judgement and "the issues which gave rise to the Attorney General’s intervention have already been corrected."

“The Sheriff’s Office and CWS work closely to protect county children which is our top priority," Sheriff William Honsal said in the statement. "Through our refined systems and protocols, we have continued to ensure that mandated reports of child abuse and neglect are quickly investigated and that children are protected.”

The AG investigation dates back to 2015, and in 2016 the state subpoenaed a vast number of records from the county, including documentation of every report of child abuse or neglect received between 2011 and 2015.

(Read more about the investigation and the stipulated judgement here and here.)

The AG’s Office release states the initial investigation found “Humboldt County authorities had not been complying with their legal duties to respond to reports of child abuse and neglect, resulting in reports falling through the cracks and an inadequate assessment of child safety risk.”

It also states the AG found CWS “was not collaborating with local tribes as required by law.”

“There’s no room for half-measures when it comes to protecting our children against potential abuse or neglect,” Becerra said in the announcement. “Our local child welfare and law enforcement agencies must respond quickly, effectively, and appropriately. If they come up short, we have to be clear-eyed about the path forward and we owe it to the children of California to act decisively to get it fixed. Our filing is about doing just that for the children of Humboldt County. At the California Department of Justice, we’ll keep standing up for our state’s child safety laws and doing what we can to ensure those on the ground have the right tools to protect vulnerable children.”

Read the AG’s news release below: 
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced seeking a court order to require the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Services Division (CWS) and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office to take steps to fully comply with a judgment secured by the California Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2018.

Despite varying levels of progress, DOJ remains concerned with CWS’ implementation of and compliance with provisions of the 2018 judgment, which was entered after a DOJ investigation uncovered systemic noncompliance with California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) and Welfare and Institutions Code. As a result, the Attorney General’s Office is taking action to extend the judgment’s corrective measures and monitoring of the county for an additional two years.

“There’s no room for half-measures when it comes to protecting our children against potential abuse or neglect,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Our local child welfare and law enforcement agencies must respond quickly, effectively, and appropriately. If they come up short, we have to be clear-eyed about the path forward and we owe it to the children of California to act decisively to get it fixed. Our filing is about doing just that for the children of Humboldt County. At the California Department of Justice, we’ll keep standing up for our state’s child safety laws and doing what we can to ensure those on the ground have the right tools to protect vulnerable children.”

Under CANRA, local child welfare and law enforcement agencies are required to accept all reports of abuse and neglect involving children and ensure that every single one is screened, cross-reported, coordinated, and investigated in a timely manner.

A DOJ investigation initiated in 2015 revealed that Humboldt County authorities had not been complying with their legal duties to respond to reports of child abuse and neglect, resulting in reports falling through the cracks and an inadequate assessment of child safety risk. Additionally, CWS was not collaborating with local tribes as required by law. Each of these deficiencies created widespread distrust within the community, leaving children at greater risk of harm.

In order to resolve these issues, CWS and the Sheriff’s Office agreed to a comprehensive set of corrective actions in 2018 aimed at ensuring compliance with state laws and protecting the well-being of all children in the county, including those who are members or eligible for membership of a tribe. As part of the settlement, the county agreed to the entry of a judgment that included a three-year monitoring period, permitting DOJ to seek orders and extensions as necessary or appropriate to ensure compliance with the judgment’s requirements.

To date, those requirements have not been fully met, necessitating the action announced today. DOJ is now seeking to extend the judgment and monitoring period to require ongoing and further affirmative corrective action, including with regards to provisions from the judgment with which the county agencies have failed to comply or consistently implement, such as: Emergency Response System, complying with statutory investigation completion timeline requirements, or extensions to exceed, as developed in policy and procedure in 95% of cases; Workforce Development Plan, developing and implementing a plan for maintaining, recruiting, employing, and supporting a high quality and stable workforce; Tribal Collaboration, taking additional steps to demonstrate compliance with requirements outlined in the judgment, including notice regarding referrals within 24 hours to the appropriate tribe for cases involving a child who is a member or eligible for membership of a tribe; and Child Fatality Review Process, ensuring a robust review of child welfare practices related to each child who dies in Humboldt County due to abuse or neglect or who previously received child welfare services.

Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the rights of youth in California and across the country.

In August, the Attorney General secured settlements with school districts in Barstow and Oroville to address discriminatory treatment of students based on race and disability status. He also announced a $600,000 settlement with an online special education services provider aimed at protecting schools and students with learning disabilities.

In July, following troubling reports of discrimination and retaliation, Attorney General Becerra announced a wide-ranging settlement with the Mojave Unified School District.

Last year, the Attorney General obtained a historic desegregation agreement with the Sausalito Marin City School District. He also reached an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District and its police department to address discriminatory treatment of minority students and students with disabilities.

In addition, Attorney General Becerra issued an alert to all school districts in the state reminding school leaders of their obligation to protect the civil rights of students, especially in the face of reports indicating that implicit bias among school administrators leads to students of color and those with disabilities being disproportionately subjected to disciplinary action.

Attorney General Becerra encourages those with information regarding suspected practices in violation of state or federal law involving systems that support children in California to report them to the DOJ’s Bureau of Children’s Justice, through the online complaint form located at https://oag.ca.gov/bcj/complaint, or by email at bcj@doj.ca.gov. A copy of DOJ’s motion requesting the court order is available here. A copy of the proposed supplemental judgment is available here.

Read the county's statement below:
The Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) is aware of the Attorney General’s press release today regarding his office’s intent to pursue an extended monitoring period and for the imposition of additional terms and requirements to the existing Stipulated Final Judgment. To be clear, the current dispute between the parties does not involve any current or existing violations of the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA), but rather the state’s desire to waste taxpayer money on unnecessary consultants and monitors. DHHS has already offered to stipulate to an additional one-year monitoring period in which we would report directly to the Attorney General’s Office, with continued oversight by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS). Indeed, CDSS already conducts this exact type of monitoring activity for all 58 California counties and also disseminates guidelines and regulations that DHHS, and each of the other 57 counties, must comply with and follow. Additionally, DHHS is already required to submit a System Improvement Plan to CDSS, which incorporates and aligns with the Stipulated Final Judgment. Yet despite this, and despite spending more than $1.5 million in third party monitors and consultants and despite that the issues which gave rise to the Attorney General’s intervention have already been corrected, the Attorney General continues to insist that our community pay for an additional two years of monitors and consultants who have no actual or specific experience in California child welfare laws and practices. This is fiscally irresponsible to do so, particularly in the middle of a global pandemic and amid an economic downturn. DHHS remains committed to protecting children and families in Humboldt County, but simply desires the flexibility to identify and retain monitors and consultants who will benefit our community long after the Attorney General moves on to its next project. Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services Director Connie Beck said, “The investigation happened in 2015, and since 2018, when the Attorney General’s judgement was filed, we have increased staffing by 30% and have implemented numerous program strategies to assist staff to do the work necessary in our community. We’ve made tremendous strides and stand behind our staff, and we will continue to do the good work that we are doing in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office and work in partnership with our community, law enforcement and tribes to keep children safe.” Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said, “The Sheriff’s Office and CWS work closely to protect county children which is our top priority. Through our refined systems and protocols, we have continued to ensure that mandated reports of child abuse and neglect are quickly investigated and that children are protected.”
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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Judge Dismisses Case Against Four Septuagenarian Rainbow Ridge Activists

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2020 at 1:57 PM

Jane Lapiner, David Simpson, Michael Evenson and Ellen Taylor. [All photos provided by the Lost Coast League]
  • Jane Lapiner, David Simpson, Michael Evenson and Ellen Taylor. [All photos provided by the Lost Coast League]

Early this morning a judge dismissed charges against four septuagenarians stemming from protests against logging on Rainbow Ridge. In June of 2019, four local elders and residents of the Mattole area – Jane Lapiner, David Simpson, Ellen Taylor and Michael Evenson – were arrested and charged after they planned to stop timber fallers for Humboldt Redwoods Company (HRC) from entering land they claim is “the last, most ecologically significant, intact forest in the north Mattole headwaters”

“They arrested us before we could do something illegal,” Ellen Taylor said when reached for comment this morning. Lear Asset Management Team which was working for HRC stopped the four early on June 10 at Monument Gates.

At first, Taylor said, the team was a little rough but after they saw they were dealing with elders, they became “quite gentle and quite kind.”

She added, “That wasn’t how it was with younger forest defenders who were arrested [in other actions that year.] Some of them got roughed up. Those cases are still ongoing.”

Michael Evenson contended that “the action the company’s security took to arrest us … there was really no basis for it. Eventually, they wasted the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Deputies’ and Court’s time because there was no basis for arresting us.”

Their attorney Omar Figueroa said that Lear Asset Management was “infamous” adding that “if the reports are true that they were repelling down from helicopters and cutting people’s [marijuana] crops without a court order, then they were acting like domestic terrorists.”

Spokesperson for the Lost Coast League which the four elders belong to, Attorney Nate Madsen, issued a statement saying,

It is an atrocious state of affairs when our elders (all over 70) are forced into a position where they feel compelled by rampant logging in never before logged forests, forests that are managed under a certificate of sustainability from the Forest Stuardship Council (FSC), to take a stands like this! Sustainable forestry operations should be happening in previously impacted regions, not the last remnants of unspoiled landscapes in California. The dismissal of all charges today is appropriate under the circumstances and a long overdue result for the principled act taken by these four dedicated elders who have spent decades working to protect these very forest stands. Their actions should be commended not prosecuted and that is the result we reached today.
When reached for an interview, John Andersen, Director of Humboldt Redwood Company, said they are reviewing the case and are not yet ready to comment.

Evenson said that protestors had hoped to be able to work smoothly with Humboldt Redwoods. “We thought we finished with that because Humboldt Redwood Company had committed to preserving the old forest. But what they did instead was redefine old growth as a way of protecting individual trees and not the value of the forest as wild places.”

Evenson wanted to make clear that Rainbow Ridge is an important area in need of conservation. He said that the Northern Spotted Owl was found in the Rainbow Ridge area. He argued, “Rainbow Ridge contains vast acreage of thriving old growth habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl which today has slipped from endangered to threatened status.”

He added,
We feel that this is such a valuable spot in the county, in the region, and even on the planet, because there are so few regions that have not been touched by industrial extraction. We need to preserve them to recover the great forests of Humboldt County. We’ve had 170 years of exploitation. [And] just like a burn victim needs patches of healthy skin to grow back, our region needs these last patches of intact forests [to heal].
He noted, “The charges were dismissed. This says [these were] baseless charges …We did nothing illegal in speaking up for our public trust resources."

Evenson then added, “We have been protecting these resources since 1990. We haven’t wavered. We’re hoping the Humboldt Redwood Company will come to some kind of accommodation … to change the management goals for Rainbow Ridge and then we can work together.”

Earlier Chapters:

Two Protestors Arrested at Rainbow Ridge Logging Blockade
Protesters Say They Are Locking to Gate to Stop Logging After Humboldt Redwoods Company Removed Tripod Sitter
Man Protesting Logging Rainbow Ridge Describes Ordeal
Demonstrators Picketed Humboldt Redwoods Company Yesterday in Hopes of Stopping Logging Planned for the Rainbow Ridge Area
Truckers and Protesters Concerned About Plans to Log Rainbow Ridge Clashed Near Scotia Mill Yesterday
Sheriff’s Office Warns Logging Protesters Near Rainbow Ridge This Morning Timber Fallers on Rainbow Ridge, Protesters Again at Monument Gate
Elders Defend Elders,’ Say Activists as Four Arrested This Morning Trying to Stop Logging on Rainbow Ridge
Well-Known Attorneys Step in to Defend Septuagenarian Rainbow Ridge Activists
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